Books Media Public Librarianship

Silent Hall by N.S. Dolkart (Book)

Silent Hall by N.S. Dolkart
Silent Hall by N.S. Dolkart

Silent Hall (Kindle: $6.99 Paperback: $7.99) is a classic fantasy novel written by a dear friend from my college days. The novel is written for a new generation of readers, while hearkening back to some familiar themes. As I began this book, I immediately recognized the internal sensation that is discordant with most fantasy published in 2016, the sensation of comfort. This would be a book about characters who did the right thing, often despite themselves, became close unexpectedly, and found themselves in the process. This book features five very different characters who all have reason to be unhappy with their lives but none of whom would have voluntarily committed to the journey they end up taking together, as refugees. Of the many things that guide their actions, one of the main things is their struggle with their own moral compasses, with trying to understand how to be good people in a complicated world. The book does some new and unique things as well; it consciously addresses certain political challenges that are relevant to today’s struggles, and it also features an endearing and surprising system of scholarship the characters use as they interpret the world around them.

I knew this reading experience, because when I grew up in the nineties, I read Patricia C. Wrede, and Tamora Pierce, and Melanie Rawn and Mercedes Lackey. These authors presented similar tropes, in fantasy settings.  Most striking for me is the sure knowledge from the get go, in both these authors’ novels and in Dolkart’s Silent Hall, that these characters take it as a given that there is a shared ethic. It is simply assumed that there is a right thing to do.

Today, for the same group of readers, instead of these tropes, fantasy mainly refers to paranormal romance, and to tropes that can and often do glorify lack of control generally and rape specifically. In library school, we talked about how fantasy has gotten so much darker. It was largely seen as a liberalization of standards, of permissions. We now accept that kids and young adults (who are commonly seen as the target demographic for fantasy novels, although of course this leaves out a non-trivial minority of adults as well) can read this stuff without becoming crazed and violent. But perhaps there’s something else going on, too. In reading Silent Hall, I began to reflect on how the key difference between Dolkart’s work and that of say, Stephenie Meyer, is that in Meyer’s work, a lack of control has largely taken the place of the moral standards Dolkart’s characters struggle to understand and abide by. This is a substantial difference in both theme and literary mechanic. In paranormal romance, we sympathize (or don’t, as in the case of my grumpy self) with these new characters because of the way their individuality is subjected to forces beyond their control, and we are meant to thrill at the idea that possibly we, too, could one day live without the burden of ethical choices on our shoulders.

Dolkart’s Silent Hall is a refreshing and comforting reminder that there remains in the literature, and in the minds of some people, an idea of a morality that is upheld by us all and individually manifested. This morality is not one that speaks to identity, but to the basic human interaction.

If you are a reader of fantasy, I highly recommend Silent Hall, the first in Dolkart’s new series. Read it because you like a comfort read. Read it because you like to read about close friends succeeding together. Read it because you appreciate the value of ethical interaction that is so lost in most of the fantasy literature coming out today. Read it for its cleverness, read it for its endearing Talmud like study of a fantastical theology. Read it because of its feminist bent or its discussion of the value of knowledge and the fear that knowledge can generate. Read it to watch characters learn to love themselves. Read it because it’s raining outside. Whatever. Read it!

Public Librarianship

Technology in the Public Library

I have been in conversation recently with the children’s  librarians and a grant coordinator here about making this Summer the Summer of Technology at the Cypress Hills Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Some of the ideas we’ve had are:

Coding bootcamp – One for kids, and one for teens. The first will use Scratch, the MIT in-browser program for learning to code, specifically designed for kids. The second will focus on app design. There is a chance our TRS will be able to get them to install processing on the computers in the library, too. Plus, we are apparently getting laptops for programs! Hurray!

3D printing – Using a glowforge or some other consumer level 3D printer, as well as the free browser apps for design, we might set up a mini maker-lab.

Minecraft Modding!

Co-op gaming – Team gaming using the eight available desktop computers at our library.

Google actually offers a training for instructors on how to teach Scratch, and I’m going on Friday!

All of this is very exciting, both for us and for the kids, but you wonder where any of it goes, ultimately. Public libraries offer a range of great programs but they don’t yet offer a Coursera style experience — in two to four hour stints, you can dabble in something, but there’s as of yet no sound structure for doing some more comprehensive. What if you really wanted to learn how to code, like to build a portfolio? What if you wanted to work your way through Ulysses or say, get a good primer in postmodern fiction? What if you enjoy working on mid to long term projects with the same group of people? Why can’t the public library be a place for that, too? Like a “Library Meetup” program.

The importance, for me, and the relationship to technology, is that more often that not, technological innovation leads to physical absence. Librarians are constantly worried about getting the stats– getting people to show up to their programs. But that term “show up” has more than one meaning, and at a community institution, “showing up” could also mean nurturing lasting relationships with other community members and the library itself.

Dear Diary

Wander, wander here and yonder

Summer is in full swing, and I seek to bloom. Today I began my 1.5 week shift at Saratoga, a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library that is actually in walking distance from my apartment! The Saratoga branch has an actual backyard, and in that beautiful backyard, there is a feral cat colony that they care for. <3  Also there is a lovely librarian here who started around when I did and apparently met her partner at a comics convention, so my plan is obviously to be her new bff.

I have been busy. Here are some of the updates:
–I went to C’s wedding in Seattle earlier this month. C and I are old high school friends, so I saw some of the people I grew up with, and we posed for silly pictures. I was also one of the witnesses for the signing of the k’tuba. It was a beautiful wedding and a nice weekend in Seattle. D.H. and I saw a bunch of the documentary about the making of Broken Age, which was both delightful and inspiring.
–I finally settled on form for my master’s thesis. I need to develop an outline, I’m hoping to pitch it to a professor in late July. The main thinkers I am drawing from are Foucault, Arendt, and certain historians of neoliberalism. With any luck, I’ll be done with grad school this May.
–I’m very excited for the taste of Bushwick next week. Even though I’ve been living in Bushwick for a year now, I don’t have a good lay of the land.
–On that note, it is our intent to renew where we are, so that lets me invest some money into my personal space (instead of moving), which is a relief. I had our cleaning lady come out and help me redo my room. I now have a normal metal bedframe, a large cat tree, a clean floor, and a bunch of stuff in storage, too. And of course, the annual donation of excess clothing.
–I started a meetup group for the story game, Kingdom, that will hopefully also involve creative output from members.
–Due to vacation time, money, and school, it looks like my plans to visit the European continent will finally be realized in July or September 2017. (I guess a lot of Europe shuts down in August)
–I am visiting D.H. in Sacramento, CA, next month, where he will begin his new job as an adult librarian for their public library system there. The plan is mainly not to melt. But I am also flying there from EWR, which is the world’s worst airport. So cross your fingers for me.
–On the friend front, Isaac is running for state rep in Dover, NH, and Noah published his first novel (review to come shortly).

Next week begins the the Big Meetup Campaign, in which I go out and Make All The Friends. Wish me luck, wish me charm.